Bringing the Past Into the Future

“If you don’t know your past, you don’t know your future.”

12.31.09 (W.Rogell)

When Phish steps into the next stage of their career in a little more than a month, they are bound to discover new styles of musical expression. With a foundation year behind them, one would imagine that Phish will start down the path of reinvention this summer, forging a new sound for 2010. As the band evolves, and their music takes new forms, they will incorporate elements of their past endeavors, a trend throughout their history. Building upon the previous year’s stylistic successes from their onset through Summer 1996, Phish hit the reset button in Fall ’96, beginning a completely new evolutionary arc for the late ’90s.

When re-listening to 2009, one quickly notices that Phish’s musical high points were truly sublime, with several jams that can hold their own among highlights from any era. And when listening more closely to the band’s playing through the year, one can identify elements from each of the band’s evolutionary periods throughout their career. Incorporating all the styles of their career into the building blocks for the future, 2010 will be a year that not only springboards off 2009, but every phase of the band’s career.

12.30.09 (W.Rogell)

Starting off last year with a focus on straight-forward jamming, Phish came out of the gates conservatively, making sure they had their footing before trying to run. However, one element of their playing stood out right from the beginning of Hampton – their precise execution of composed sections, as well as their full compositions. Turning their glaring weakness of 2.0 into an immediate strength of 2009, Phish opened the era with two of their most complex pieces in “Fluffhead” and “Divided Sky.” Evoking memories of the early-’90’s, when Phish ran through fugues like wind-sprints, their precision and prowess on their multi-part compositions stood out all year long. The complex sections of their larger pieces also became revitalized as the year wore on, and tackling the openings of pieces like “Reba,” “YEM,” and “Bowie” became second nature. Sure, there were speed bumps along the way, but Phish’s precision and accuracy became a strong suit in 2009.

Bonnaroo - (G.Burwell)

By the end of fall tour and in Miami, Phish began playing compact, full-on jams that more resembled the fury of the mid-90’s, an approach I labeled “musical density.” The band started to improvise in a more concentrated manner, offering many original ideas over a shorter amount of time. Jams that illustrate this retro-style include Miami’s “Piper,” “Ghost,” and “Back On The Train, “Charlottesville’s “Light,” and MSG’s “Disease > Piper.” With a take-no-prisoners approach, Phish annihilated these pieces with fast, thematic communication, leaving no time for loops, vamping, or repetitive funk chords. This emerging sound that featured shorter, too-the-point, jams evoked memories of the band’s most adventurous improvisational era from ’93 to ’95, albeit not quite as insane. Nonetheless, the band integrated similarly tight, no-nonsense communication that characterized a point in their history into their modern soundscapes.

Through this compact style, and by trimming the fat off their musical excursions, 2009 Phish piqued the interest of more than a few old-schoolers who had lost touch with the band during the the late-90’s era of groove, or during the post-hiatus era of abstract exploration. Phish sounded like the band these fans had loved through the mid-’90’s, pushing the boundaries of experimental rock while retaining a focused intensity to their playing. They could once again tear though “Foam,” had no problem shredding “It’s Ice,” and Phish music shifted back towards the form that made them famous to begin with. But not without brushstrokes of their latter years.

Miami '09

While Phish certainly didn’t focus on funk grooves last year, they did use certain vehicles to reach those swanky places. Though reined in quite a bit, their danceadelic style shined through many times throughout the year, and perhaps none more brightly than Red Rock’s “Tweezer.” After a relatively groove-less June, when Phish dropped this version (still illegal in some states), they let the floodgates of groove crash open in an all-out rhythmic explosion. All year long, but from August on specifically, versions of “Ghost,” “Wolfman’s,” and “Tweezer” routinely explored gooier territory, incorporating ideas of ’97 and ’98, but never delving nearly as deep into the musical molasses that defined those years. (Perhaps the most direct reference to this era came in the methodical funk turned ambient “46 Days” from Detroit last fall.)

11.18.09 (M.Stein)

The percussive jams that dotted so many setlists last year, growing out of “Rock and Roll,” “Piper” and “Drowned,” also represented carry-over from the late ’90s. Once Phish learned the polyrhythms of Remain In Light in 1996, this type of jam immediately jumped into their repertoire the next show with 11.2.96’s “Crosseyed > Antelope,” and remained in their bag of tricks all the way through, refined throughout the years. These sparser and faster grooves of ’09 brought back the feel of ’99 and ’00, as well as some post-hiatus adventures. Additionally, the many ambient interludes and amorphous jams that popped up throughout the year can be directly traced to the aural experiments that blossomed in Fall ’98, and fully developed in 1999. Using ambient textures and “amoeba-jamming,” Phish brought a new sound to the table that fall; a sound they resurrected more than a few times last year to varying degrees of success. Some standout examples include Deer Creek’s “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing,” The Gorge’s “Sneakin’ Sally,” SPAC’s “Number Line, and the latter half of Miami’s “Tweezer.”

Thus, as Phish forges a path into the future, their past is undeniably coming with them. But just as these musical elements from different years were incorporated into 2009, a new direction awaits in 2010. Just what that will be remains the mystery of the summer. Answers await only 36 days away.


Jam of the Day:

Piper > What’s the Use?” 9.11.00 II

A stellar nugget of Phish2k.




12.30.98 MSG, NYC, NY < Megaupload

12.30.98 MSG, NYC, NY < Torrent

Here’s the completion of the stellar New Year’s 1998 run. Somehow, this one has skirted the archive. The most mellow of the four evenings still carried some legit highlights, specifically, “Disease > Piper.” The first set brought the bombastic beginning of “Chalk Dust,” “BBFCFM,” “Wilson,” and peaked with the surprise, set-ending “Reba.”

I: Chalk Dust Torture, Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, Wilson, Roggae, Sparkle, The Moma Dance, The Old Home Place, Sample in a Jar, Frankie Says, Maze, Loving Cup, Reba

II: Down with Disease > Piper, Prince Caspian, The Squirming Coil > Slave to the Traffic Light

E: Grind*, Possum

*debut, w/ Tom Marshall

Source: Schoeps CMC641 > Lunatec V2 > Apogee AD1000 > DAT


509 Responses to “Bringing the Past Into the Future”

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  1. Dbone Says:

    nice write up miner – don’t know if you were knowingly using my suggestion from the other day or not, but this is exactly what I was looking for and you have the time, knowledge and writing style to bring it all together -THANKS

    and also on the day of 12/30/98 – completing the run of my first full new year’s run.

  2. garretc Says:

    Yeah, I was gonna say, “Heeeeyyyy, this reminds me of a proposal from the other day…”!

    Glad to see our requests are coming to fruition!

  3. Mr.Palmer Says:

    Thanks for the 12.30.98. I tried to slip that in the other day that the ’98 run was incomplete. Nice to see you were paying attention. 🙂 I clearly remember thinking that the set would never end when they started up Reba


  4. [Not Tom] Marshall Says:

    I heart the archive. Gracias, senor Miner!

  5. Ghostface Says:

    If The Flyers get swept, does Trey hit the road this summer playing mad? And as a result not well? Or if the Flyers continue through the playoffs does Trey get too distracted to play well? Such a quandry. Discuss.

  6. gavinsdad Says:

    Miner – good stuff. thx for the 12/30/98 too. dunno if i ever listened to that one…i remember being there tho..

    @ghost: flyers are gonna have to sack up on Friday to have any impact on trey…if they get swept, by the time the Trza hits Camden it’ll unfortunately be outta sight, outta mind. if they win….camden gets the hose. (it’ll get the hose regardless..loving that it’s a 2 nite stand for my hometown shows)

  7. SillyWilly Says:

    Howdy, all!

    I can’t help but think Miner is right on with the idea that 2010 will usher in an exciting new era.

    Last night I had this idea: Trey is the prototype post-modern creator.

    The man is ADD especially when it comes to music. I think 2009 was a period of sentimental Trey being pumped that he was back doing this. Now, in 2010 I can’t help but trust that edgy side of Trey to start kicking in. No longer is it simply enough to have Phish back again, Trey’s gonna want to push the issue like he always has.

    I really don’t believe people like Trey ever can truly kill that urge to keep pushing forward. He doesn’t seem like the kinda person who can just sit on their music an be content with it.

    I don’t know what you guys think, but I just have a good feeling that Phish and Trey in particular has a bug that won’t allow them to not to push the edges of their music.

  8. fat bastard Says:

    anyone else watch the Blackhawks-Canucks game last night notice both Kill Devil Falls and Chalkdust Torture during the intermissions?

    just more proof that: CANADA LOVES PHISH!

  9. BTB Says:

    I like this write up. 2 bonus points for using the words “gooier” and the phrase “floogdates of groove”

  10. Little Buddy Says:

    Great write up, Miner! I’m very excited to see what 2010 has in store for us.

  11. nonoyolker Says:

    Nice write-up Miner. Really hoping ’10 brings in a new envelope to push.

    ’09 seemed a lot about getting their footing. Definitely some really bright spots, but i’ve been relistening to some jams that were sick at the time and just aren’t holding up in hindsight.

    Props to the RR Tweezer call out. One jam that definitely holds up very nicely. I like this version so much because it seems new – a type of jam that stood out as being different from the rest. Ditto to the end jam of Gorge Light.

  12. Gavinsdad Says:

    What are fat bastard and little buddys tour plans? I forget where you guys hail from…

  13. fat bastard Says:

    chicago goin to TP and BTB fest. then back again @ deer creek and alpine. midwest partytimer

  14. Dbone Says:

    @ nono RR tweezer and Gorge Light were the first two phish 3.0 jams that did it for me and ones that i keep going back to – i like on the Gorge Light that they were getting to that place towards the end of the first set in Sally and then arrived in light.

  15. fat bastard Says:

    2009 vs 2010. gonna be tough to beat. BUT lookin forward to seeing what songs they reinvent. in ’09 it was undermind, GBOTT…, in ’10 maybe Round Room and some Pebbles and Marbles

  16. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    mornin’ all

    great topic today. definitely a lot to look forward to while we wait to see what the latest tour will bring.

    in a somewhat related vein, can anyone recommend a show or set of jams that really bring the uplifting, transcendent aspect to the forefront? I have had an extremely rough week and after listening to the JOTD I need something a bit more “positive” (if that makes sense). What’s The Use? kind of takes me in the other direction (not in a bad way, but not what I need right now).

  17. neemor Says:

    Thank you Mr. Miner for reminding me (yet again) why I come here every day.
    I love the flashes of humor, too. (Still illegal in some states!)
    Good stuff.

    It is clear to see, when revisiting ’09, not only that the music was indeed sublime at points, but that they encompass all that made them the greatest band to ever walk this earth.
    The tight jamming, the willingness to explore, the zany, mad-cap humor….it was all there.
    This is going to be a great year!

    2010 Phish-Swimming Back to the Top.

  18. neemor Says:

    BTB Fest ’10 is going to be ridiculous!!!!

  19. willowed Says:

    I like the word smattering.
    2009 gave is a smattering of all the different eras.
    Me likey, me likey very much!
    More show opener Tubes in 2010 and Vultures.
    Now that I think of it, throw some Saw it Agains with a side of Sloth in there too.

  20. willowed Says:

    Oh, and make it a great day friends!

  21. HarryHood Says:


    You forgot “danceadelic”. Now Miner’s just making up his own words. llfa

  22. fat bastard Says:

    type 3p0 how bout a divided sky from 94-95. if that dont lift you up you must be shackled to the ground

  23. willowed Says:

    Hey TIII. Throw on Set 2 of SG 2 from this year
    Down with Disease > Piper > Fluffhead, Cities > Free, Halley’s Comet > Also Sprach Zarathustra > David Bowie
    I especially like the Cities thru 2001

    This will make you smile! Not too heavy, not too light but sprinked with gooey funk!

  24. willowed Says:

    I meant MSG not SG

  25. neemor Says:

    Set II of MSG II was the goods.

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